Have Yourself A Naughty Little Santa
by Karin Tabke, contemporary (2008)
Pocket, $6.99, ISBN 978-1-4165-6458-4

If I didn't know better, I'd say that two different people have written Have Yourself A Naughty Little Santa. The first two-third of this story is an excruciating read because it is just horrible, simply horrible, while the last third is like an apology for the horrible, horrible first two-third.

The plot, like the first two-third of the story, is so clichéd that I'm surprised I don't catch the whiff of a dead horse from the pages of this book. The plot is also so dated that I have a hard time imagining any sensible contemporary woman doing the nonsense Kimberly Michaels gets into here. Kimberly, supposedly a hardened career woman, is predictably unhappy with her life. But because she's a stupid heroine, she decides to become the wife of this hard-hearted businessman who treats her as if she's an asset for his business rather than a person. It's the same old story about wanting security and avoiding heartbreak, although in this story, we see Kimberly needling Nick, her beau, to get him to show her some affection when she knows first-hand that he doesn't do that kind of thing. In other words, she is not prepared to be what Nick wants her to be.

A one night stand with Ricco Maza - good grief, what a name - has her feeling all warm and tingly, but when she meets him again, she starts pushing him away because she doesn't want to get hurt. There is no reason why she can't just have an affair with him, but I suppose if Kimberly doesn't behave like a lobotomized shrew who goes off like a boiling kettle when Ricco's penis comes within five feet of her, there won't be any story here. Despite being treated like dirt by Nick, Kimberly has come to Evergreen to scout the town for him and determine whether the town is amenable to a buy-out. Nick wants to create a casino, you see. Despite the fact that the economy of the town is dying and kids have no money to pursue higher education, the people of Evergreen are not going to settle for newcomers coming in and creating jobs for them while bringing in tourists, no, because, as Ricco puts it, that will be selling out.

Kimberly is not a pleasant heroine. She is soon judging everyone and everything she sees harshly and wrongly, just like an "urbanite" that Ricco looks down upon. Even more amusingly, she has Ricco pegged as a womanizing asshole and therefore she will not have anything to do with him - this coming from a woman who is sleeping with Ricco when she's agreed to marry another man, how rich.

If the presence of stupid people everywhere in this story isn't enough, Ricco treats Kimberly just like... well, just like how Nick treats her.

She could hear the shriek of children's laughter halfway up the poinsettia-lined sidewalk. She balked.

Ricco turned on her, an angry frown marring his handsome face. "I'm starving here!"

She shook her head and stepped back. "I don't do well around children. They, uh, don't like me, and I don't care for them."

He pulled her along, and she stumbled behind him. "These kids don't bite."

That scene sums up their relationship perfectly and succinctly - she always acts like an idiot, he always ignores what she says or thinks and makes decisions for the two of them, and the only moment when these two actually seem to like each other is when he has finally worn down her defenses, got his paws on her G-spots, and had her go from squealing no to begging yes.

On top of that, the "romance" is a patchwork of scenes so clichéd, even a blind man could spot them without having the book reproduced in Braille. Because Kimberly is a woman driver, she makes a grand entrance in Evergreen by demonstrating how she is a one-woman traffic hazard. And that she will conveniently wake up screaming from a nightmare, making Ricco burst into her room, at that very moment when he has just emerged from the shower with only a towel around his hips. And on and on the clichéd scenes pile on, making me wonder whether I'm stuck in a time warp where it's 1983 again and all I have to read are Harlequin Mills & Boon books of those days.

I am wincing from the truly horrible train wreck this book is shaping up to be when in the last third or so, something unexpected happens. The author demonstrates that she knows what pathetic losers her characters are all along and have them psychoanalyze each other as if they are on Oprah's talk show. Kimberly turns into a weepy heroine of the day, but by then, she has stopped playing the irrational frigid shrew and instead she begins fighting for the hero's affections. She will not back down from his ridiculous assertions that he is no good for her and in fact, she will make him understand that they are meant to be together. As for Ricco, the poor man gets no break - everyone piles on him and points out correctly that he is just being a coward by insisting that he is no good for any woman and therefore Kimberly should leave him.

And when Kimberly's role as Nick's future wife and current doormat is revealed, nobody overreacts or behaves like berserk piranhas spoiling for a fight. People are willing to talk, everyone is rational, and, best of all, Kimberly refuses to back down or go away without a fight. She is no longer a martyr, not after what she has been through.

Can anyone tell me how I go from wanting to see Kimberly shipped off to Antarctica to wanting to stand up and cheer her on?

If Ms Tabke has written this story without putting in those abundance of painfully clichéd scenes and having the main characters behave like demented Harlequin stereotypes for so long - or if she has let me know early on that such painful writing is part of a big plan to topple me over with the awesome late third of the story - I would appreciate the stronger late third of the story better. As it is, I'm still wondering whether the good parts of the book arise by design or by accident. Let's just say that the terrible parts of this book are very convincing, if only because there are so many of them.

Rating: 63

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